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Impression of the proposed Ruataniwha Dam

Farmers have until Monday to sign up to take water from the beleaguered Ruataniwha Dam, but the company behind the dam has no intention of revealing whether it has met its vital water uptake target tomorrow -  and might not for weeks.

Hawke’s Bay regional council’s investment arm, HBRIC Ltd, must have contracts in place for 45million cubic metres of water a year to be taken from the scheme before the regional council goes ahead and invests $80million of ratepayers’ money into the $333m project.

HBRIC Ltd chief executive Andrew Newman says while Monday is the deadline for farmers to sign up as foundation water users, the investment company will not be releasing any water uptake figures until it has reported back to the regional council and potential investors, “which is expected to take a couple of weeks”.

"We have an obligation to ensure our shareholders and potential investors are fully informed before we release any information publicly," said Newman.

Tomorrow’s deadline for water contracts comes after a week of growing cries for the project to be shelved after a blow out in costs.

An update on the regional economic impacts of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme, which includes damming the upper Makaroro River in Central Hawke’s Bay to provide irrigation to more than 25,000 ha of land, said capital costs to  for the scheme had risen from the $246million estimated back in 2012, to $333 million, due to the addition of an irrigation zone to the scheme's footprint.

The forecast of on-farm investment required from farmers had also risen to between $300 million and $550 million depending on land uses, according to the report by Butcher Partners Limited, which also undertook the initial economic impacts study in 2012.

However, in response to news reports that it would now cost close to $1billion to build the dam, Andrew Newman said that on-farm investment figures were not part of the scheme project cost.

"There are a range of factors affecting the construction cost of the dam and distribution network, including the addition of another irrigation zone, an increase to the distribution network which includes additional pipework and pumping pressure across the entire network.

"The forecast on-farm costs will vary depending on the land use, however they are costs that will be borne over at least a decade as farmers develop their properties for irrigation."

However the reported cost increases were enough for some to call for the scheme to be scrapped. Labour MP Meka Whaitiri wanted the regional council to start developing an 'exit strategy', while regional councillor  Rex Graham took to radio to call on the council to have the “courage’ to acknowledge the project "isn't going to work".

With more than $16m already sunk into the project, The Greens called on the regional council to stop pumping ratepayers money into the dam scheme,  but HBRIC found an ally in Irrigation NZ, which said it was confident the dam would proceed.

The latest Butcher report on the regional economic impacts of the scheme forecasts more than 3,500 ongoing jobs will be created and tens of millions of dollars injected into Hawke’s Bay as a result of building the 83-metre high dam to create a 7km long storage lake, capable of holding more than 100million cubic litres of water for irrigation.  .

Additional spending by farmers and other households as a direct result of the scheme was expected to boost regional GDP by $380 million a year

It suggested in the first three years while the scheme is being built 1,400 jobs will be created, including 400 in the construction sector. Long term, once farms reach full production, around 1,300 farming jobs will be created, along with a further 2,200 jobs in the processing sector and general off farm employment.

The economic impacts of the scheme are approximately 60 per cent larger than estimated in the 2012 and were now $732million, according to the report.

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